Are We Busy with Ourselves?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lordof hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

(Haggai 1:2–11, ESV)

It cannot be denied that America is a prosperous nation. And the American Christian Church is as well. The above passage from Haggai reminds us that it can become very easy to focus our attention on our own pleasure and comfort rather than upon the Lord and the work that He has given us to do.

The Jews that had returned from exile in Babylon were at one time so thankful to be back in their homeland. And they were thankful that the Lord protected them from the threats all around them as well. But over time, they slowly forgot why they had returned and Who it was that cared for them and loved them, even in their rebellion and disobedience.

As often happens with us, the returned exiles became inwardly focused and forgot all about God. They not only took care of their primary needs for food, shelter, and safety, but they began to work at restoring their wealth and comforts. They sought to fill their barns, and their homes with an abundance of the good things in life. They moved beyond necessity to luxury. And all the while the house of the Lord continued to be in ruins.

God’s rebuke was about more than the building. It always is. It was about the heart, and the treasure we seek always tells us about where our heart is. When we lay aside the things of God in order to chase after our own pursuits, even good ones, we soon can become captive to the gifts while forgetting the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

Nice things aren’t evil. God wasn’t saying for the Israelites to stop fixing their own homes. The problem was that they put God aside. They probably figured that they’d get around to it, or that someone else would pick up the slack. They may have assumed that God wouldn’t mind, or He’d understand. And as time ticked on, God was pushed aside more and more.

It is one thing when those who do not know God personally forget Him. But it is a greater tragedy when the people of God who have so much to be thankful for simply go on with their lives while giving God little more than the left over scraps. I pray that we don’t treat God like that.

What is the IFCA?

With a very hectic travel schedule for the past several weeks, I haven’t been able to write on this blog as I’d like, but the end is in sight!

In the meantime, I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with Dr. Damian Efta, Pastor Andy Huber, and Elder Kevin Gentzler, all shepherds at Church of the Open Door in Leavenworth, Kansas (www.opendoorinfo.org).

The church has a weekly podcast named “Sheep and Shepherds,” whose audience is primarily their local church body. In the first podcast we recorded in my time with them, I explained what IFCA is, a bit of our history, and why a church or individual might want to join.

You can listen to this particular podcast episode here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sheep-and-shepherds-podcast

Doctrine Worth Dying For

Bishop John Hooper burned at the stake by the order of Queen Mary Tudor

In his soul-stirring book, Light From Old Times, J.C. Ryle puts before his reader reminders of the courageous men and women who gave their lives for the truth of the Word of God. Wycliffe, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Bradford, Rogers, and Hooper, among many others, died for refusing to cast aside their conviction of what the Scriptures teach in order to spare their mortal bodies.

The other day I wrote a post in regard to some churches that have diminished views of eschatology as is evidenced in their doctrinal statement. Some claim that since whether one is Amil, Premil, Postmil, is not an issue of salvation, and therefore should be left out of a church doctrinal statement. I think I addressed this in the last post, but I will say this: If we are only going to include universal truths that all Christians agree upon from every communion and tradition, we will indeed have a very small statement.

But this view ignores two realities. First, it mixes the distinction between the universal church and the local expression of the church. Yes, to be included in the universal church we need to ascribe to the gospel as delivered once for all the saints. But the local church, with local pastors and elders will understand very important doctrines and practices very differently from many other local assemblies, that are also a part of the Church Universal.

This simplistic and even naive view wants to act as if anything that is not necessary and primary is not important to express and defend within the local church. Every church makes distinctions in what they believe and how they express their theology in practice. The only way to avoid doing so is to continually water down belief and practice to the lowest common denominator so that whatever you do, so long as you are under the banner of “Christian,” is acceptable. However, in practice, the church that doesn’t write down what they believe and practice does take a stand, but they don’t have it written down.

The second reality often ignored is the fact that not only are secondary and even tertiary issues important to delineate in a doctrinal statement, but their are even good reasons for division. In Ryle’s Light From Old Times, he points out the great division that existed during the Reformation in Europe and England over the issues of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Again, those who would prefer unity over doctrine, would say that this is unfortunate. But history shows that the doctrinally astute understand that these issues matter immensely, and may even be worth dying for if we are convinced by Scripture and conscience.

For the one who would say that secondary and tertiary issues are not important enough to divide over, I would ask whether they have women pastors and elders in their churches, whether they practice infant baptism and believer’s baptism, and by what theological basis do they affirm their practices? Does this non-committal church worship on the Sabbath or on Sunday? Do they partake of the Lord’s Supper without any explanation of the significance? If they do explain, which view do they take? Is it “potluck” and everyone brings their view to the table? Does this sound like unity? Does it sound like nit-picking and division since none of the views would keep a person out of heaven? To me, it sounds like formalized chaos and would break down in actual practice.

We live in a wishy-washy age, but we don’t need anymore wishy-washy leaders in the Church. We need men with lion-hearts and backbone. We need men who will speak with grace, but never depart from truth. We need men who will stand on what they believe and not allow their churches to slink down to the lowest common denominator in its doctrine, and especially under the false guise of “unity.” Doctrine is worth defending. It is even worthy dying for. True, not every hill is worth dying on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have firm commitments, nor that good men can’t disagree and still be brothers at arms in the fight for truth.

May the Lord restore us to a place where we can have distinction and unity. That we recognize the universal church as all those who subscribe to the basic tenants of the Christian faith, and yet the critical importance of the local church is never downplayed or discounted, but seen as the place where further doctrinal detail is hammered out in the everyday life of Christ’s disciples.